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Mariners grab Cal righty at No. 5

Mariners grab Cal righty at No. 5

SEATTLE -- When it became apparent that Bob Fontaine was getting his man Tuesday, the Seattle Mariners vice president of scouting sat back in his chair and flashed a smile.

He even clapped his hands.

Of the immeasurable of draft scenarios Fontaine and the Mariners had prepared for, the one Seattle wanted played out perfectly in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft.

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The player that Fontaine coveted -- University of California pitcher Brandon Morrow -- was there at No. 5 in the first round and the Mariners quickly jumped on selecting him.

"We're real excited," said Fontaine, who is presiding over his third draft with the team. "This kid is a good fit for our club. Last night, when we left we had different scenarios. We're fortunate it worked out this way."

So was Morrow.

"I was very excited," Morrow said from his home in Rohnert Park, Calif. "Going into it, I saw all the mock drafts and I was really excited to see they all had me going to the Mariners. I was excited to see them take me."

The Mariners certainly had pitching on the brain Tuesday as they selected four pitchers in the first four rounds -- Morrow, prep righty Chris Tillman (Fountain Valley, Calif.), prep lefty Anthony Butler (Oak Creek, Wis.) and righty Enrique Orta (University of Miami).

A 21-year-old right-hander, Morrow had what many considered the best pure arm in the draft. One of 10 semifinalists for the Roger Clemens Award as the nation's top collegiate pitcher, Morrow was 7-4 with a 2.05 ERA in 14 starts for the Bears this season.

But it wasn't a sparkling ERA that drew the Mariners to Morrow.

It was his stuff -- a fastball that's touched 99 mph and routinely runs between 94-96 mph, a changeup, slider and a split-finger fastball -- that excited Fontaine.

"We have followed Brandon for many years and watched closely as he has made huge improvements," Fontaine said. "He's a big and strong kid that can either start or come out of the bullpen. With his potential, we think we can only get better in the future."

That sentiment is shared by California pitching coach Dan Hubbs, who has worked with Morrow the last three years. Hubbs said that Morrow no longer resembles the skinny kid who showed up in Berkeley from Rancho Cotate High School in Rohnert Park.

"I think he's barely scratched the surface of what he can do," Hubbs said. "We're dealing off one huge year but the big thing for him is he's holding his velocity and his stuff. And his confidence is an all-time high."

Morrow -- who was diagnosed as a Type I diabetic in January of 2003 -- came to Cal with a fastball that ran between 86-91 mph. But at Cal, Morrow's body composition changed as he started lifting weights. By the start of his sophomore year, he was throwing 96 mph.

But Morrow's shoulder -- he's 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds -- wasn't quite able to handle that spike in velocity as Morrow was shut down during the second half of last season.

But he rebounded well in the Cape Cod League last summer, routinely hitting 96-99 mph as the closer for Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox.

"A lot of kids in the age bracket 18-21 experience that [a jump in velocity]," Fontaine said. "He's maintained it. He's actually getting better."

Morrow returned to Cal this season a much more polished pitcher. The first pitch that he threw in a game this season was clocked at 99 mph, according to Hubbs. His command and velocity held up late in games.

"I've had some rough stints where I couldn't get control," Morrow said. "It's been tough for me to stay consistent because I've jumped up in velocity in my life. When you jump up that much in velocity, it's hard to keep going the way you're going. I lost all feel and control. It's something I've been gaining back."

The Mariners initially project Morrow as a starting pitcher though they won't rule out a return to the bullpen where he had success in the Cape Cod League. Once he has signed, Morrow will likely begin his career at the Class A short-season Everett or long-season Class A Wisconsin.

"Without setting timetables, we think he can move quickly," Fontaine said.

Morrow would like to remain a starter, but is amendable to going back to the bullpen.

"I like them both," he said. "I'd like to continue as a starter and develop and hopefully be in the Mariners rotation. If things don't work out that way I'm confident I can be a closer."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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